As coronavirus cases in India touched nearly 13,000, the Centre on Thursday defended its testing strategy in the wake of fresh criticism, saying the testing ratio is not low, adding there has been no COVID-19 infections in 325 of the 736 districts.
The assertion by the Indian Council of Medical Research came in response to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's criticism that India was not conducting enough coronavirus tests even as the health ministry said 28 districts which earlier reported COVID-19 cases had recorded no infections in the past 14 days.
With comprehensive testing holding key to controlling coronavirus, India also received the much-awaited five lakh rapid COVID-19 testing kits from China on Thursday, the government said.
The death toll due to coronavirus in the country rose to 420 and the number of cases climbed to 12,759, registering an increase of 28 deaths and 826 cases since Wednesday evening, according to Union health ministry data.
Out of this, as many as 1,514 people have recovered.
The number of cases had risen by over 1,000 in the last two days.
Coronavirus cases crossed 1,000 in Madhya Pradesh (1,090) and Rajasthan (1,104) taking to five the states which have surpassed this mark.
Maharashtra topped the tally at 3,081 with Mumbai (2,043) being the worst hit followed by Delhi (1,578) and Tamil Nadu (1,267).
The cases in the country's commercial capital have doubled in six days.
"In countries like Japan, one out of 11.7 tests turns out to be positive, which is among the highest in the world. Italy tests 6.7 persons for one positive test while the USA tests 5.3 persons and the United Kingdom 3.4," said Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, Head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at the ICMR.
"Taking their population base into consideration, it is difficult to comment about our testing rate. In India, we are conducting 24 tests out of which one comes out to be positive. Also, we have huge population and not all people belong to vulnerable groups. Hence, can't say our testing ratio is low," he told the daily press briefing.
Endorsing the official's assessment, Lav Agarwal, the joint secretary in the health ministry, said data can be interpreted in many ways and the government's effort is aimed at ensuring not a single positive case is missed out.
Rahul Gandhi said the scale of testing in India has been low so far at 199 per 10 lakh people -- around 350 tests per district -- which he said is not enough to tell which way the virus is moving.
Gandhi told reporters via video-conferencing that aggressive testing is the main weapon to defeat the coronavirus and it should be used strategically.
Gangakhedkar said the testing kits from China will be used for surveillance and to monitor whether coronavirus hotspots in the country are increasing or decreasing.
Reacting to reports suggesting that the Chinese kits could be faulty, Gangakhedkar acknowledged that the sensitivity and specificity of such kits are less.
"Rapid antibody tests are for monitoring surveillance, not for early diagnosis. Hence there is no concern with respect to the testing kits being faulty, that concern was with respect to immune response alone," he explained.
The Centre has declared 170 hotspots--123 hotspot districts with large outbreaks and 47 hotspot districts with cluster-- in 25 states and Union territories.
Besides, it has identified 207 non-hotspot districts with clusters in 27 states which can be potential hot spots if there is no containment strategies.
At the briefing, Agarwal said that 325 districts in India have not reported any coronavirus case so far because of actions initiated at field level.
Also, the implementation of containment strategies in some districts which earlier had reported COVID-19 cases have yielded positive results, he said. One such place is Mahe, an enclave of Puducherry in Kerala, where no case has been reported in the last 28 days.
There are 27 other districts in the country also where no positive case has been reported in a fortnight, he added.
The ministry of home affairs said the Centre has adopted a special strategy to fight coronavirus, with specific instructions for the district and state authorities.
The strategic approach for COVID-19 containment broadly involves defining the area of operation, applying perimeter control, delineating containment and buffer zones, a ministry statement said.
Besides, there is active search for cases, contact tracing, quarantine, clinical management and awareness generation among public.
In Delhi, authorities are considering clinical screening of all food delivery personnel in south Delhi with 89 people being quarantined after a pizza delivery agent in the area tested positive for coronavirus.
The 19-year-old tested positive for the virus on April 14.
A total of 72 people whom he delivered pizza to have been put under home quarantine, said B M Mishra, district magistrate of South Delhi.
"In view of this incident, we are considering that all those involved in home delivery of food are put through clinical screening so that those showing symptoms are stopped from visiting homes," Mishra said.
The 17 first line contact of the infected man, including his colleagues, have been quarantined at an institutional facility at Chhatarpur, Mishra said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian economy, and discussed a possible second stimulus with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to boost sectors hit hard by the pandemic.
Modi held discussions with the finance minister as the pandemic hit sectors from small industries to the aviation sector hard with millions of jobs at stake.
To ease the pain and misery, the finance minister last month announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore stimulus that included free foodgrains and cooking gas to poor for three months, and cash doles to women and poor senior citizens as it looked to ease the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown.
Official sources said that a total of 3,336 Indians in 53 countries were infected by the coronavirus while 25 lost their lives due to the disease.
They said Indians stranded abroad will have to show patience as the government is not evacuating them as part of a larger policy decision to check spread of the virus in the country.
The sources said India has decided to supply anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to 55 countries on commercial basis as well as grants.
On sourcing medical equipment from abroad, they said India is procuring coronavirus testing kits from South Korea and China.
India is looking at procuring medical equipment from Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Japan and France to fight COVID-19, they said.
The Indian Army also directed all its military establishments, cantonments, formation headquarters and field units to totally restrict movement of forces till April 19 in view of the government's fresh lockdown related guidelines.
India went under a total shutdown of 21 days from March 25 to April 14 to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced extending the lockdown till May 3.